Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Grandfathers (orig. Abuelos) [2010]

Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -

Grandfathers (orig. Abuelos) written and directed by Ecuadorian film-maker Carla Valencia Dávila is a documentary that played recently at the 28th Chicago Latino Film Festival, about the filmmaker's two grandfathers: Remo, Ecuadorian and Juan, Chilean.  It makes for a compelling story.

Remo was a pharmacist, who in his 40s contracted a brain tumor.  Given little chance for survival, he decided to hit the books on his own and, experimenting on himself, he eventually came up with a pharmaceutical cocktail that defeated the tumor allowing him to live for decades more.  Indeed, Carla narrates that he was convinced that Carla and her generation could, in fact, through the various cocktails that he became adept at making, become immortal.   And he did come to have a rather extensive and international following.  People from all over the world, given no hope for survival would write him for help, and (according to the documentary) he did have his successes.  A good number of the people who wrote him came to be cured by the medicines that he sent them.

Juan on the other hand, was a political activist living in a desert provincial town in northern Chile where he had grown-up, working for Salvador Allende's coalition, the Unidad Popular, prior to the 1973 military coup led by Agusto Pinochet against Allende's government.  Shortly after the coup, Juan was arrested, taken to a notorious concentration camp in northern Chile and a month later was one of the first to be executed there.

How did  Carla Valencia Dávila's parents meet?  Well, this in itself becomes fascinating to a Westerner: they met in 1970 in Soviet Russia, both being Soviet sponsored foreign exchange students there.  They were still living in Moscow where Carla was born when the 1973 coup in Chile occurred, presumably returning eventually to Ecuador rather than Chile after their studies were finished.

Thus the film becomes a window in the life of the young Latin American Left of the late Cold War era (1970s-).  Playing some of the old Chilean left-wing LP-records that her father either brought with him to Moscow or bought there, Carla notes that on them were songs of a Chile that no longer exists.

For someone fascinated in both history and people, it all makes for a very fascinating film.

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